20. RECEIVE COMMENTS ON DRAFT CARMEL RIVER FLOW THRESHOLD REPORT
Meeting Date: July 21, 2003 Budgeted: N/A
Program/Line Item No.: N/A
Staff Contact: Henrietta Stern Cost Estimate: N/A
General Counsel Approval: N/A
Committee Recommendation: N/A
CEQA Compliance: N/A
SUMMARY: The Board will receive comments on a March 2003 Draft Carmel River Flow Threshold Report prepared by Jones & Stokes Associates (JSA) and provide direction on whether any follow-up action is needed. Two preliminary drafts of the Flow Threshold Report were presented at the January 30 and February 27, 2003 meetings. At those meetings, members of the public expressed concerns about the report. On February 27, the Board directed that the report be circulated to agencies and the public for 60 days and comments be summarized and presented for Board review. At that time, the Board will determine if further action is required.
A March 2003 version of the report was prepared that included minor refinements for clarity, grammar or accuracy, and copies were provided to key resource agencies. A March 19, 2003 notice of availability of the report on the District website and the May 19, 2003 deadline for comments was mailed to the agenda mailing list; the Mitigation Program annual report mailing list also received mailed notices. A special heading was created on the District website.
The following entities submitted written comments in response to the March 2003 notices:
Ø Carmel Valley Association (CVA)
Ø NOAA Fisheries
Ø Carmel River Steelhead Association (CRSA)
Ø California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG); e-mail transmitted May 19, 2003; hard copy to follow.
Exhibit 20-A provides the complete text of the four letters. A notable theme in the NOAA, CDFG and CRSA letters is that the more rigorous federal standards should be used for practical as well as policy reasons. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards focus on comparison to the existing situation while the federal standards under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) focus on recovery and improvement over an unacceptable existing situation. The NOAA letter stated that the purported goals of the Threshold Study are reasonable, but expressed the concern that “the application of the proposed thresholds would be very damaging, especially in the context of a new large reservoir that heavily regulates flow in the river.” The NOAA letter did not address whether application of these flows to a non-dam situation such as desalination plant would be similarly damaging.
RECOMMENDATION: District staff recommends that the Board:
Ø Receive the comments on the March 2003 draft Carmel River Flow Threshold Report;
Ø Provide direction on further action. Two basic options include:
Option #1 – Direct JSA to cease work on the Flow Threshold Report and use NOAA Fisheries instream flow standards in the EIR, even though they are more stringent. Advantages of this option include: (1) no additional costs would be incurred; (2) agency concerns would be addressed; and (3) the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) baseline would be consistent with ongoing water rights water availability evaluations that use the NOAA flows as a baseline. The primary disadvantage is that the report would remain a draft and would have limited use.
Option #2 – Direct JSA to finalize the Flow Threshold Report with consideration of the agency comments received. The primary advantage of this option is completion of a final report. The disadvantages include: (1) budget adjustments and approval of a revised scope of work for consultants to meet with agencies and discuss their comments would be needed, and (2) the schedule for completion of the draft EIR could be delayed due to the uncertain timeline to complete the report to the satisfaction of the entities involved. This option would be similar to the original scope of work suggested by the consultants in September 2002, which the Board did not approve.
BACKGROUND: At its August 29 and September 16, 2002 meetings, the Board voted not to proceed with the Phase 2 scope of work for the water supply project EIR until completion of Phase 1 engineering studies and receipt of other non-technical information. This action was taken with the understanding that completion of a Final EIR in October 2003 would no longer be feasible. The Board authorized the General Manager to issue a Task Order to maintain progress using available funds in the Phase 1 budget. The Board directed that a new “Task 2.0” be identified to prepare the Carmel River Flow Threshold Report with a completion goal of 90 days rather than six months. The shortened time frame would be accomplished by minimizing agency interaction, and focusing only on available technical information in close coordination with District staff. It was recognized that a variety of assumptions would need to be made in absence of current data or significant uncertainty about the future, such as the fate of sediment in San Clemente Dam.
The Board direction was that Task 2.0 be used for the EIR, while keeping in mind the broader overall goal of developing a flow regime associated with the recovery and long-term sustainability of the Carmel River ecosystem for a variety of species. A three-step process was envisioned. Step 1 is consolidation of historical information about species needs, based on previous reports and activities, including identification of conflicts and unknowns. Step 2 is use of the accumulated information by MPWMD staff and consultants to develop our best understanding of species needs today for use in the water supply project EIR. Step 3 is beyond the scope of the EIR, but would use the EIR information as a foundation for development of a flow regime that would support overall recovery and sustainability of Carmel River ecological system.
Four of the five subtasks listed below were approved by the Board in September 2002; subtask 2.0-3 was not approved:
Task 2.0-1: Compile and review existing information;
Task 2.0-2: Conduct technical staff meeting;
Task 2.0-3: Facilitate agency review and coordination [optional task];
Task 2.0-4: Prepare draft threshold report;
Task 2.0-5: Prepare final threshold report.
Please refer to the September 16, 2002 board packet for additional background information.
The primary purpose of the Flow Threshold Report was to provide information that could be used to evaluate and determine the significance of biological and water resource impacts on the Carmel River as a result of operating alternative water supply projects. The report focuses on steelhead, California red-legged frog and key riparian (streamside) vegetation species. This information is used to develop “thresholds of significance” in the water supply project EIR as required by CEQA. Thresholds are developed for different types of water years, ranging from very dry to very wet. The thresholds consider the most limiting stage of the life cycle, which may vary depending on the water year type, as well as worst-case scenarios such as extended droughts.
In this context, a threshold is defined as what river flows are required to ensure that no adverse effect would occur to the species studied relative to the existing (June 2002) condition of the species; that is, that the existing population would not be reduced or harmed in some way. It is notable that the flow thresholds, in nearly all cases, represent improvements over the existing situation. For example, currently the lower Carmel River goes dry for several months during the summer and fall months, while the flow threshold report sets a flow rate of at least one cubic foot per second (1 cfs) during this period.
Not surprisingly, the most critical species, and the species for which most information is available, is the steelhead. Flows that are conducive for steelhead are nearly always conducive to frogs and riparian habitat. The original scope envisioned developing information on aquatic insects, an important food insect for steelhead, but time constraints and lack of data precluded this analysis from occurring.
The thresholds define minimum acceptable flow amounts in contrast to optimum amounts or flows desired for the recovery of a species in the future. It is important to note that the flow thresholds in this report are not the same as an instream flow schedule used to operate a water project. Examples of instream flow schedules include flows approved for the New Los Padres Dam and Reservoir in 1995 by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), or the bypass flow schedule developed in June 2002 by the NOAA Fisheries for aquifer storage and recovery or other offstream projects. The flow thresholds in the JSA report under consideration serve as the precursor to development of a refined instream flow schedule. They also can be used to help develop the water availability analysis that was requested in late 2002 by the SWRCB in relation to the District’s pending water rights applications.
It is important to note that the purpose of a flow threshold is not the same as instream flow recommendations, such as those proposed by NOAA Fisheries, which reflect NOAA’s opinion on how a project such should be operated. It is assumed that NOAA project operation goals would be greater than the flow thresholds, whenever possible, because the context for NOAA Fisheries is species recovery and improvement in the future. This is in contrast to the CEQA context of comparing conditions under various water project alternatives to the situation as it existed when the Notice of Preparation of an EIR was issued in June 2002.